Researchers with Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have developed a soft exoskeleton that enables its wearer to control a drone using their upper body. Called FlyJacket, the exoskeleton is a human-robot interface (HRI) that offers “natural and intuitive control of drones,” according to the university, enabling inexperienced individuals to operate them.
Typical drone controls involve a touchscreen and/or joysticks, which researchers say are “neither natural nor intuitive” for operators. As an alternative, FlyJacket places motion sensors on the operator’s body, requiring them to spread their arms like wings (with supports to prevent fatigue) and move their upper body as if they’re flying to control the drone, while a VR headset provides a first-person perspective from the UAV’s camera.
Explaining the usefulness of the technology, the research paper states:
The development of more intuitive control interfaces could improve flight efficiency, reduce errors, and allow users to shift their attention from the task of control to the evaluation of the information provided by the drone. Human-robot interfaces could be improved by focusing on natural human gestures captured by wearable sensors. Indeed, the use of wearable devices, such as exoskeletons, has been shown to enhance control intuitiveness and immersion.
The team has tested FlyJacket using a Parrot Bebop 2 quadcopter. A smart glove expands the user’s abilities by recognizing certain finger gestures to trigger actions. Touching the thumb to the middle finger, for example, triggers the system to set a point of interest, which could be useful during search and rescue missions. The researchers are working to add additional controls to FlyJacket, including the ability to adjust the drone’s speed, according to IEEE Spectrum.
A paper detailing the technology is available from EPFL here.